Assessment: Journals

Written by: Christine von Renesse

At least once a semester I ask my students to write a journal. My main goal of this assignment is to monitor students’ buy-in into my IBL classroom. How is IBL working for them? What is not working? What could they change to improve their learning? What can I change? I will hear from the whole class and really get a sense of where things are at. Through their writing students reflect on their learning and are forced to think about their responsibilities as (life-long) learners. Especially for freshmen this can be a difficult task.

I like my students to read “ A Mathematician's Lament” by Paul Lockhart. The text can either be used in the beginning of the semester to set the stage for how and why this class will be different or it can be used a few weeks into the semester to reflect on how the class is going and what the larger context is.

Reading the lament lets the students “zoom out” and look at a larger picture. They witness how a mathematician (other than their crazy professor) views mathematical ideas as beautiful. And they become more aware of broadly-held (negative) societal views of mathematics and how these views stem from the way mathematics is currently taught.

I really enjoy reading the journals, tuning in to my students thinking and feelings, and from here finding new ways to engage them even deeper in their learning.

Here is a sample Journal Assignment.

The following are examples of student journals:

Positive Math Journal 1
Positive Math Journal 2
Sceptical Math Journal